“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
I have an on-going dream, a big dream, a dream I first spoke of in November 2016 when I graduated from the “Listen into Life” Spiritual Direction Formation Program. During this sabbatical, this dream has been enriched and I hope will become a reality into the future.
In October 2015, I commenced as Pastoral Care Officer at Matthew Talbot Hostel for the homeless. The weekend before I went for interview I was deeply moved and inspired when Lucy Abbot Tucker shared with “The Listen into Life” Spiritual Direction community the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) http://www.ignatianspiritualityproject.org/ .
Subsequently, but before being appointed at Pastoral Care Officer, I began to dream that we (as yet to be defined we) could offer retreat experiences either working with ISP to review and if necessary modify the Ignatian Spirituality Project for our circumstances here in Sydney or develop and offer our own retreat opportunities for those experiencing homelessness.
We know that spirituality is vital to us all and even more so for those who experience homelessness, mental illness, addictions and trauma. Many of us know how richly nourished we are by beauty, nature, stillness, rest, wholesome food and spiritual accompaniment that we encounter in our retreats. For a person who is experiencing homelessness such experiences are beyond reach.
I describe my initial dream, as I envisaged it in November 2016, below.
A 2 night / 3 day retreat for those experiencing homelessness.
A bus picks up a small group of participants after lunch on Day 1. Participants are taken to the retreat centre via a clothing store where they can select 2 new sets of clothes. When they arrive at the centre they are greeted by the “team” and shown to their rooms, where they can shower and change into their new clothes. Their original clothes are collected, laundered and mended as required and returned to them at the end of the retreat.
The retreat community (participants, volunteer prayer companions, spiritual directors, centre staff) would then gather for introductions and orientation. Participants, volunteer prayer companions and spiritual directors would then have short session before pre-dinner nibbles. Dinner would follow with some choices in menu available. After dinner an opportunity for participants to meet with their director and prayer companion. The evening would conclude with contemplative prayer.
Day 2 would commence with a buffet breakfast. In the morning there would be contemplative prayer, a short input and free time before a smorgasbord lunch. The afternoon would include free time, a short input session and pre-dinner prayer. There would be opportunities to meet with one’s director in the morning and / or afternoon. After dinner would be a community celebration evening.
Day 3 commences with breakfast, prayer, and a short input followed by free time. After lunch there would be a final gathering, a celebratory prayer. The washed and if required mended clothes would be returned to the retreat participants before boarding the bus for the return journey.
All of this will be of no cost to the participant with the retreat centre having donated the 2 night / 3 day accommodation costs, the spiritual directors, prayer companions, washers and menders donating their time, the bus and new clothing would either be donated or sponsored by a benefactor.
On the weekend of 29-30 September, I had the privilege of being a participant on an ISP retreat in Akron, Ohio. What a wonderful gift was offered to these women. And I was moved by how responsive they were and how the various elements of the retreat touched each of them in profound ways.
The retreat, as I experienced it in Akron, drew on elements of Ignatian and 12 Step spirituality. I also noted that it addressed each of the lost connections identified by Jon Hari as causes of depression.i
I left the retreat with a sense that I can do this. I wonder with whom could I do this? How can we do it? Drawing on what resources? Where could we do it? The realisation of this dream is still some way off.
However, I sense, initially I, together with others, will continue to offer contemplative listening spaces in various contexts. I experienced Sidewalk Talk in New York,ii and met with various people on the team. I am aware that others in Sydney are leading Sidewalk Talk events. I am keen to be part of this listening presence community as Sidewalk Talk nurtures human connection through heart-centred listening. “Listening Posts” and “Listening Circles” could continue to be a particular offering in spaces in the “margins,*” offering vulnerable people “the space to explore [and give voice to] their inner territory.”iii As Anne Scott says:
“not only is there a growing homelessness problem here – and across the world – which is touching more and more people, but there is also a certain homelessness of the soul – of the inner. And so, when we offer a place for women to meet and connect at this level, while their outer problems remain, they are able to find peace – home, even if just for an hour. Slowly something comes alive in the women through this process. Not for all, of course, because some wounds are so deep, and their issues can be complex. But there is usually a healing that takes place, even if it is just a felt experience of being welcomed, as they are having their sacredness reflected”iv
I would also like to offer contemplative reflection days for those in the “margins.” In addition, I feel deeply drawn to begin planning for and develop the capacity to, offer retreats, together with the associated on-going follow up spiritual accompaniment and commence the formation of teams who will lead the retreats.
If you would like to explore this further with me and hopefully others, please make contact (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Good works are often spoiled by moving too quickly… The good which God desires is accomplished almost by itself, without our even thinking of it. St Vincent de Paul
Let’s see where the Divine leads.
* Limitations of language. I am struggling to find respectful ways to name what is being offered to whom. While some of this contemplative listening may take place in the “mainstream” I am particularly focused on offering a listening presence among those who are rarely listening to and easily overlooked in mainstream environment, hence the use of “margins.”
With deep gratitude to all those who have helped cultivate this dream including Chrisitne and the ISP Staff, Margaret, Jena, Teri, Toni, Erin and the participants of the Cleveland ISP Retreat, Traci and Marie and the Sidewalk Talk Team, Anna and the New York Sidewalk Talk listeners, Anne, Dianna and the Listening Circles in California, Marcia and the Listening Post volunteers, Lucy Abbott Tucker, Sally Longley, Don Bisson, Sr Margurite, Sr Carolyn, Edwina and all those who have been helping cultivate this dream from its inception.
i Jon Hari Lost Connections- Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions London: Bloomsbury Circus. 2018.
ii Sidewalk Talk https://www.sidewalktalksf.com
iii Marcia Wakeland, “The Art of Listening Deeply with the Vulnerable and Marginalised.” Presence. Vol 23, (2) June 2017.
iv Scott, Anne. Finding Home: Restoring the Sacredness to Life- stories of women in homelessness and transition. Sebastopol: Nicosia Press, 2016.